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"Little Prick" takes on a big health issue
"Little Prick" takes on a big health issue
by Dr. Bob Wood, - Director, HIV/AIDS Program, ?Public Health Seattle-King County

Rising from the clutter of ordinary advertising, a new, local HIV testing campaign is making its mark. In June, the Little Prick campaign made its debut, using a sense of humor to deliver a serious health message.

Little Prick is a multi-media effort aimed at increasing HIV testing among men who have sex with men (MSM) and who are at highest risk for HIV infection. It's sponsored by the HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health - Seattle & King County, and supported through enhanced HIV prevention funding by the City of Seattle and King County.

The campaign slogan is an attention-grabber, with a smiling finger reminding how easy it is to get tested, with just a swab or a finger prick.

But why is more HIV testing so important? Between 350 and 400 new HIV cases are diagnosed each year in King County, and the large majority of these cases are in MSM. Importantly, until people with HIV know they have become infected, they continue as usual sexually and may tell their partners that they last tested HIV-negative. But once they learn they have HIV, they substantially reduce their risk behavior to protect their partners.

So, earlier more frequent testing will reduce the time that they may be having sex that is more likely to transmit HIV. And while most MSM have tested at least once in their lifetime and are testing for HIV more frequently than other risk groups, there is a small but important group of MSM at high risk for HIV infection that is still not testing as frequently.

We need to reduce infections in our community, and testing is an important way to do it. The more frequently at-risk MSM test for HIV, the quicker they know their HIV status, and the quicker they can protect others.

Consistent and correct condom use remains the most important strategy for keeping more people HIV-free, until we have a cure or a vaccine. But as antiretroviral drug therapy has thankfully kept many in our community alive, some MSM have lost the fear that motivated them to have protected sex. Given this reality, we need to take a comprehensive prevention approach that recognizes that some MSM are taking more risks than others and targets messages to these members of our community.

That's where the "Little Prick" campaign comes in. It encourages MSM who have one of three high-risk factors to get tested every three months. These risks are:

o Unprotected sex with a partner of unknown or HIV-positive status
o A diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease (syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, ) during the previous year
o Use of methamphetamines or poppers

All other sexually active HIV negative MSM should test at least yearly unless they are in "mutually exclusive" relationships (meaning that neither partner has sex with any other partners).

The campaign reaches MSM through Gay-oriented Internet sites, Gay-oriented print media, billboards, sidewalk chalk drawings outside key bars and bathhouses, and coasters, posters and mirror clings. Businesses and organizations that cater to local MSM have also been enlisted to distribute materials

One innovative component of the campaign is an online three-month testing reminder. Individuals can visit the campaign website - www.homohealth.org/littleprick.htm - to sign up for an automated three-month HIV testing email reminder.

Little Prick will run through mid-August, then resume in October. It is being carefully evaluated. If it's successful in changing the testing behavior of this high risk population, it could lead to additional support for efforts like it in the future.

For more information about the campaign or to request campaign materials, please contact the HIV/AIDS Program at 206-296-4649.

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